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A study of drug overdose deaths in Florida between 2003 and 2009 has found that prescription medications were involved in 76 percent of cases. During that same period, 34 percent of overdose deaths involved illegal drugs. Bloomberg reports that 10 percent of the deaths included both prescription and illegal drugs.

The death rate for prescription drugs increased 84.2 percent between 2003 and 2009. The greatest increase was seen in the death rate from oxycodone, followed by alprazolam (Xanax) and methadone. By 2009, the number of deaths involving prescription drugs was four times the number involving illicit drugs, the researchers reported in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The study found that heroin death rates decreased 62 percent between 2003 and 2009. Cocaine overdoses rose until 2007, and then declined in 2008 and 2009. Methadone overdose rates rose 79 percent.

The CDC concludes that the findings indicate the need to strengthen interventions aimed at reducing overdose deaths from prescription drugs in Florida.

Florida Governor Rick Scott recently signed into law a bill designed to cut down on prescription drug abuse by controlling ‘pill mills’ in the state. The law authorizes the creation of a prescription-drug monitoring database to reduce doctor-shopping by people looking to collect multiple painkiller prescriptions. The legislation also imposes new penalties for physicians who overprescribe medication and imposes stricter rules for operating pharmacies.

Federal authorities estimate that 85 percent of oxycodone is sold in Florida. Many of the sales are to people who come from out of state and then resell the pills illegally.

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